William K. Powers,
Oglala Religion
(University of Nebraska Press, 1975; Bison, 1982)

Oglala Religion is very much an academic book, written by an academic for an academic community. It is not meant for pleasure reading and will force the average reader to spend as much time looking up words in a dictionary as reading the book. It will be challenging to most.

The author's purpose with this book was to explain how the Oglala Sioux have managed to maintain their social and cultural identity through the ages, despite continuous attempts by the federal government to eliminate it and mold the Native Americans into a Anglo lifestyle.

William Powers states that most studies of the Oglala have focused on how they have changed and adapted to the white society, and most emphasize history. Few studies have looked at how they maintain their values and culture, especially with a modern focus. Powers believes these studies have been one-sided and hopes to present a more balanced evaluation. I feel he has done so.

It is interesting that the author chose to recreate the Oglala society at the time of contact with non-natives in roughly 1700. He uses this as the base for modern comparisons to illustrate that there has been much continuity and consistency in their culture, rituals and religion. His analysis of their myths and legends is also intellectually stimulating.

Powers has done a thorough job with his research and has provided a convincing argument in favor of his study. I especially liked his comparison of their rituals to their myths, and I thought the table was a nice touch. He almost broke out of the academic mold in chapter 15, "Social Relations," which is more readable than the other chapters and demonstrates that Powers has a flair to dispensing information with a strong narrative flow and exciting language. If he had written the entire book in this style and tone, it would have been a killer.

If what you seek is a scholarly treatise on the Sioux religion, this will serve your purpose soundly. But if you are seeking a reference on the topic that will double as a pleasure read, I would suggest Sioux Indian Religion. For me, this book serves an excellent example of how not to write your dissertation results if you wish to sell the book outside academia. The best one-word description I can apply is: "dry."

review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

12 July 2008

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